My Brother is an Only Child

July, 2008, Drama

Directed by:Daniele Luchetti

Starring:Elio Germano, Riccardo Scamarcio, Angela Finocchiaro, and Luca Zingaretti

Five years ago, U.S. audiences were introduced to the creative team of Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, veteran Italian screenwriters responsible for that country’s incomparable T.V. production The Best of Youth, which was converted into a pair of feature-length films for American distribution. In it, the writers managed the remarkable feat of bringing contemporary Italian issues alive by focusing on a single (fictional) family. (I’m attaching a copy of that review to this one for comparison purposes.)

Any commercial success in the movie business inevitably spawns imitations - - often by the original creative team. In My Brother is an Only Child, Petraglia and Rulli work with a different director and new cast in adapting a novel entitled “Il Fasciocomunista”, which analyzes Italy’s tendency to oscillate between fascism and communism. The book apparently chose to demonstrate this complex phenomena by exploring the political coming-of-age of two working class brothers - - perfect turf for the screenwriting duo who’d done such an astounding job of placing sweeping social commentary in a familial context with their earlier movie. 

Unfortunately, lightening hasn’t struck twice, despite an appealing, (and award-winning) performance by Elio Germano as Accio Benassi, the tempestuous younger brother. He flirts with right-wing thugs to assert his independence from the suffocating home life provided by his parents and the constant harassment of Manrico, (Ricardo Scamarico) his handsome left-leaning older brother who graduates from organizing workers to felonious anti-capitalist activities that make him the object of a police manhunt. The film traces the arc of their intersecting lives from adolescence to the violent death of one in the presence of the other, but their journey meanders uncertainly between humorous fraternal interplay and the sociopolitical forces which lure them in different directions. Along the way, Manrico impregnates a woman Accio secretly loves while the latter sleeps with the wife of his fascist role model, leaving the rest of the family to pick up the pieces. The pomposity of the political left is nicely mocked here, but the anti-intellectualism of Accio’s fascist comrades never gets beyond offhand caricature. 

My Brother was directed by Daniele Luchetti, a writer/director with an impressive list of earlier films, yet this one has the look of rough improvisation; scenes are often poorly lit and meander from one event to another in a haphazard manner. (Though generally praised in Italy, the film failed to win a nomination as best foreign language film in last year’s Oscar competition - - an example of the Academy Award selection committee’s good judgment.)

Since the screenplay focuses so exclusively on the brothers, the rest of the cast has little opportunity to contribute anything of significance. This is especially true of the film’s women - - lover, mother, wife and sister. They’re deftly drawn but in the end contribute so little to the film’s development they have to be considered mere window dressing, padding out the plot’s 103 minute running time. Brother ends with a long shot of Accio’s grimacing face; is he experiencing physical pain, delayed frustration with the course his life’s taken or profound boredom? Who cares? He and his brother aren’t vivid characters in an interesting story, but archetypes in a cinematic exercise aimed at cashing in on a previous screen success.

The verdict? Been there, seen that, especially in this film’s magnificent predecessor. 


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